In this series, we’re sitting down with the Swette Center-affiliated faculty to catch up on food systems, innovation, and what makes a good meal. See the rest of the series on our Food Systems Profiles page.
Read on for an interview with Hamid Marvi, Senior Global Futures Scientist and Associate Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy.
1) How did you get interested in food systems issues?
Food insecurity is a major issue and unfortunately, if you look at the trends, they're not looking great. From 2022 to 2023, the number of people impacted by food insecurity has almost doubled impacting around 350 million people. This is a very important problem to tackle and if we don’t address it now, down the road, we may not be able to control it anymore. So that is one of the main motivations that got me interested in food sciences altogether.
2) Share a glimpse of your current research and how it applies to food systems transformation.
I work in the area of bio-inspired robotics, so we look at a wide range of animals living in different habitats, and study how they make effective interactions with different environments. We are particularly interested in locomotion, specifically how animals move in complex environments like sand, gravel, and other types of flowable ground. Moving through such environments that are governed by complex granular physics is very challenging for robots. In contrast, animals can handle these environments with ease. Rather than trying to copy the biological system, we would like to learn their underlying design and control principles. Once we learn these mechanisms and principles, we can develop bio-inspired robots for a wide range of farming applications. Particularly, these robots can help with planting and seeding, crop monitoring, weed control, harvesting, irrigation and fertilization, and soil and crop analysis, to name a few.
3) What’s an innovation in the food systems world that you’re excited about?
Working in the area of robotics, autonomy is a really exciting field to me. Autonomous cars are already being tested on the roads, and they’re everywhere now. Autonomous robotic systems for farming applications have also been worked on for quite a few years, and that’s something that has a huge potential. Imagine robots that can operate in the farms fully autonomously, day and night, making the process a lot faster, easier, and more effective. One important point to mention is that these robots are not going to fully replace farmers. They are already using different tools, and such robots are just new tools available to farmers to help them enhance productivity, reduce labor costs, improve resource efficiency, and make data-driven decisions for more sustainable and efficient farming practices.
4) What’s your favorite weeknight meal?
There is a pretty famous Persian dish called Ghormeh Sabzi that I am a big fan of. It’s a stew with a mix of beef/lamb, vegetables, and beans, and is usually served with rice. It’s certainly one of my favorite meals, but the cooking process is pretty involved. So, I’m not sure if a weeknight would give you enough time to make it!